Parfuums by Philippe Claudel


Parfums by Philippe Claudel (A catalogue of remembered smells )

French memoir 

Original title – Parfums

Translator – Euan Cameron 

Source – review copy


Nightswimming deserves a quiet night

The photograph on the dashboard taken years ago,
turned around backwards so the windshield shows.
Every street light reveals a picture in reverse
Still it’s so much clearer

I forgot my shirt at the water’s edge
The moon is low tonight

source R.E.M nightswiming is a bit like this book part remember parts of are youth ,the good bits .

I knew after enjoying his novels previously ,I would love his memoir and that the style would be uniquely different .Philippe Claudel has written nine novels ,made a number of films and he has won nearly every major award in French literature and also the Independent foreign fiction prize in the UK , he currently teaches at the University of Nancy , which is also in the Lorraine ,where he has lived and through this book you get a real sense of how rooted in the region he is .Now I’ve decide to break with the usual form of my reviews and combine my own life and talk a bit about the book I was so touched by how Philippe had used smell to evoke memories from his past .I ll use a few examples he used and combine them with my own life .

Gauloise and Gitanies

Now philippe says how you are either a smoke of one or the other in France , remember his uncle Dede , that smoke Gauloise and how the smell and smokers of this cigarette tend to be from a certain class and then Gitanies he remember that the priest smoke them and that seemed the sort of people who smoked them  he does mention cigars but I also have smoke both these brands and it isn’t the memory I’m mentioning .Now for me smell  remind me of my Dad very much not these but for him Cigars during my childhood he smoke cigars , the whole thing of the little cutter to take the tip-off ,the leather carrying case and the smell all remind me of my childhood holidays ,even to this day I smell cigar smoke and think of my dad and those days .


He remember trips camping in the summers whilst at boarding school , the whole experience squash , games involving clues .Even how the fire prepared at the start of each day becomes a clock for the day in those endless summers marking the days moving by .Now for me i was remind of peat fires and my gran ,we would travel when I was very young into Donegal liberate some peat along the way then have poatoe cakes with chese on and strange mix of soda stream drinks we had chosen before we went out .Then the smoke is a strange pinky grey colour and smells unlike anything else in the world .

Suntan lotion

He thinks about his mum who smooth him in it and was in a constant panic about the young Philippe getting sunburnt , so much he had to wait to mid afternoons to meet his friends til the sun was less fierce in the sky .My stepmum jumped to mind for me not because she was like Philippes mum now the suntan lotion she used to use was a special one for tanning more that had a real coconut smell ,not the usual suntan lotion it made me think of the hot summers we had abroad when younger .


His childhood summer again ,him with his good friends on bikes or playing games ,with the smell of Acacia petals from the tall trees that gave them shade as they cycled along ,also throwing the clusters of flowers into oil to make scented oil .Now for me a plants smell is two geraniums and tomato plants both of these make me think of my grandparents home by the seaside ,the smell of geraniums that grew in the porch a heady sickly flowery smell , then at the back in the greenhouse the smell of tomato plants but also the taste of those tomatoes grown taste like no other tomatoes ever do .

Coffee roasting

His first taste of freedom as a young 19 year-old in Nancy ,going out every day from cafe to bars , but also than discovering how coffee is roasted the smell of roasted coffee .Now anyone that knows me will know ,I only drink proper ground coffee and have done for most of my life living by myself , but coffee remind me now of my Amanda we have coffee a lot not being big drinkers we tend to have a coffee and cake at a coffee shop one of our favourites has a shop to buy coffee and tea attached and a wonderful smell and great selection of coffees my current favorite is one called tiger stripe rather nice with their cakes as well especially the victoria sponge that is just perfect .

Well that is the idea there are 63 vignettes of Philippe claudels life and I’m sure like me as you read along you will drift into your own past .For me smells often remind me of the past and since Proust onwards smells and taste have driven writers ,but few i think have taken it as far as philippe and used it just to tell his life in part .

What smells remind you of the past ?

October 2014
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